Amazing articles on just about every subject...

A Career In Woodworking

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Wood in its various forms enters more than any other sub-stance into the industry of our nation, and the importance of its quick and economic conversion from tree to articles of general utility cannot be overestimated. The carpenter supplies one of the primal necessities of man—shelter—whether that shelter be for home or business. The furniture maker renders that shelter livable and attractive, and the cabinet maker furnishes such valuable adjuncts as stairs, mantels and built in furniture. But necessary as are the products of these industrial workers, those who cater to the scientific and the aesthetic interests of man must not be forgotten. The automobile and the aeroplane industry could advance little without the workers in wood, who fashion the bodies of these vitalized machines, and life would be a poor sort of thing indeed were it not for those who create such aids to human satisfaction and contentment as the violin, phonograph, radio and piano.

The woodworking industry might be divided and subdivided into innumerable classifications, from the humblest machine worker in the mill to the highest paid building contractor of a large city. For the purpose of this course, however, only the strictest divisions of the industry, as carpentry, cabinet making and furniture building, will be considered.

The work of the carpenter is tied up with that of all other builders. First, the architect makes the plans and specifications, then the contractor plans the construction and the mason builds the foundation. It is now the carpenter's turn to erect the frame of the house, build its roof, put in the various partitions and take care of such parts of the interior work as the floors, stairwork, trim, hanging of doors and windows, etc. The house is then ready for the plumber, electrician and plasterer, but it is easy to see that the work of the carpenter is most important of all, though dependent to a certain extent upon some knowledge of the others.

The distinction is often made between the carpenter who works on the exterior of a building and the one who does the interior work. The latter is known as a joiner or interior finisher. The carpenter who will be most successful at his trade is the one who is able to do both interior and outside work, as he then has no fear of loss of time due to inclement weather, which so cuts down the earnings of the less skilled worker.

It might be well to mention here the machine carpenter, who has grown out of the old village carpenter. The products of machine carpentry are innumerable, and include furniture parts, interior finish, boxes, crates and musical instruments. If one cares for the trade at all, he is sure to find some portion of this work interesting. The industry is highly specialized, many factories confining themselves to the production of a single article. They are all bound together, nevertheless, by the use of common materials and machinery; and many of the operations are similar. This industry also includes special occupations, such as hand and machine carving, wood turning and saw filing, which require various degrees of skill and well trained workers.

The introduction of machine work in place of hand work, which has taken place in the past few years, has made great changes in the industry of cabinet making. Now it is hardly distinct from machine carpentry. Cabinet makers and their allied workers the makers of chairs, frames, sashes and doors—assemble pieces of stock, which have already been cut, into built-up products. These men glue joints, nail and screw various parts together and make sure that the finished product is correctly, squarely and solidly built. Some of the finished products are furniture, wagons, automobiles, baby carriages, agricultural implements, boats, canoes and musical instruments, besides many special products, of which toys, games and gymnasium apparatus are examples.

For the most part, cabinet makers use hand tools in assembling their work; but occasionally they find it necessary to use certain machines. In some factories one worker builds up the entire finished article, but in most cases he completes one process and hands the work on. In fact, the industry has become so specialized that it can hardly be called cabinet work in the true sense of the word. The old-fashioned type of cabinet maker is found today among those who are engaged in making and putting up the better class cabinet furniture, such as is found in churches, stores, offices, banks and some dwellings. In this case the products are completely built up from specially made designs the work requiring finer constructive skill as well as greater average intelligence. Some of the higher positions in this line demand an intimate knowledge of the processes and materials used in making the articles and the ability to handle men, but very little mechanical training.

The products of a furniture factory are fashioned from full-sized drawings, and the men who are employed as designers must be of the highest type, having an understanding and appreciation of the various styles of furniture and all the other artistic elements which distinguish exclusive designs. It is also necessary that these men understand the construction of materials that enter into cabinet or furniture production. They must know the series of processes which make finished products from the rough wood. They must know how the wood is purchased in the rough, dried, and cut to necessary sizes, and put through the various milling operations, and how all this is followed by assembling, gluing and finishing.

The skilled mechanic who has the added advantage of artistic ability will always find himself in demand in those shops where high-class furniture is made to order from special designs furnished by exclusive interior decorators. Musical instruments, such as the piano, organ, phonograph and violin, are made in special factories, but practically the same kind of work is done there as in all the other woodworking industries.

Scientific men have paid little attention to woodworking, though it is really a branch of engineering. The conversion of wood by machinery has greatly increased the interest in the industry, but there is still much room for scientific progress. The boy who is naturally intelligent and who has an active and resourceful brain will be the leader in the new developments, provided that brain has been scientifically trained. There was a time when the higher positions in the woodworking industries were filled by skilled foreign workers and the industries looked to the grade schools for helpers only. But the number of these foreign workers is continually falling off, and the demand for trained American workers is constantly increasing.

The, young man who is naturally attracted by the possibilities in wood, who enjoys his elementary training in school in the practical application of woodworking, the use of hand tools and the elements of design, is almost sure to succeed as a woodworker if he applies himself to the trade. It is necessary that the machinery, the materials and the tools he will have to use in his work should interest him without any effort on his part. The young man who is always making little contrivances about the house is the one who is likely to make the greatest success as a worker or designer in wood. The boy *ho, when he passes a pile of lumber, can see in it a finished product, or who, when he passes casually through a building, notices where improvements could be made, has the native requirements of the future carpenter and the ultimate contractor who will be "his own boss."

More than this, the young man who is to succeed in the wood-working industries must be proficient in elementary mathematics, especially in geometry. If his mind is of a mechanical bent, he will master the elements of mathematics as though they were self-evident. The future woodworker must also have some ability in mechanical drawing, in order to understand the plans and make the necessary layouts. If he is to be a carpenter he should know something of all the other building trades as well as his own. He will never be a foreman, a building superintendent or a contractor unless he is acquainted with local and state building practice.

There are three distinct ways of learning the woodworking trades. The first is that which is more common in England than in this country apprenticeship. The term is usually about three years and the wages are small. The second way is to "pick up the trade" by working under different employers. Because of the great variety of things the efficient woodworker must know, his chances of success are limited in this method by the work in which his employer is engaged, and by the interest the employer takes in the beginner. The third method is school training. This training varies greatly, starting with the ordinary trade school course, of about one year, which teaches the student to use the common tools, to operate a few machines and to make and read simple drawings, besides instructing him in the rudiments of finishing—and extending to the higher courses in Industrial Arts given in many high schools and universities.

Success may be obtained by followers of all these methods, but a combination of apprenticeship and school training is undoubtedly the best way to the desired end. One should get the best school training available, and then obtain employment in a woodworking establishment or with a building contractor, depending on the branch of work he wishes to follow.

Many of the big universities offer courses in Industrial Arts. These courses are wide in scope and provide an excellent foundation for future progress, if supplemented with practical experience. These courses, however, are three or four years in length and are as expensive as a regular college course. On the other hand, trade schools giving both day and night courses of one or two years' duration are to be found in all large cities, and such courses are much less expensive. There are free schools where trades are taught, and night schools where a boy can study, continuing with his other work at the same time. The local Board of Education will be glad to furnish information regarding such courses.

The building trades vary greatly in preparation and in pay—pay, of course, varying with the location, and the experience of the individual. But wages, even of beginners in the trade, are good. The carpenter who has passed through training and apprenticeship can easily earn $40 to $50 a week under normal conditions, and frequently more; and when he graduates into carpenter-contractor, and from that position to general contractor, his profits are considerable. The cabinet maker or furniture worker does not earn quite so high a wage when he first starts out, but his chances for advancement are good. His training as an ordinary workman will fit him for a position as foreman, and from this position he should gradually rise until he becomes a superintendent or finally a proprietor of a business of his own.

The woodworking industry is especially attractive in many ways. There is a certain stability about the trade and a constant demand for men. Employment at present is certain and, so far as can be judged, will always continue that way. Moreover, the woodworker finds it easy to move from one place to another and from one factory to another because of the similarity in the work. Working conditions in the industry are good, safety de-vices have been greatly increased of recent years and wages are continually increasing, with hours growing shorter.


ALLEN, F. J.: "Guide to the Study of Occupations," Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1921.

"Trade Foundations Based on Producing Industries," Guy M. Jones Co., Indianapolis, Ind., 1919.

WEAVER, E. W.: "Profitable Vocations for Boys," The A. S. Barnes Co., New York, 1915.

"Workers in Wood," Bulletin of Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis, Minn., 1916.

"Workers in Wood," University of Wisconsin, Extension Division, Vocational Guidance Series, 1918.

"Woodworking Trades," Vocational Rehabilitation Series, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1918.


American Carpenter and Builder, Chicago.

Builders' Journal, Rogers and Manson Co., Boston.

Contracting, Contracting Publishing Corp., New York.

Furniture Manufacturer and Artisan, Periodical Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.

Monthly Labor Review, Jan., 1920, U. S. Department of Labor, Washing-ton, D. C.

Home | More Articles | Email: